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Simple Game

The game is simple. We can talk on and on about all the statistics. We can beat ourselves up coming up with all kinds of ideas (which I enjoy myself) on what combinations Coach Howland can put on the floor but the bottom line always come down to two things IMHO for Ben Ball: defense and rebounding. We have heard incessant whining about the offense in recent years (even though it was one of the most efficient offenses in the country last year and is number 1 as of right now this season) but the key for this team to get better is defense. From what we saw last night it looks like we got our grove back at least for one game in defense. Hopefully we can now set up the momentum for a nice run in next few games at Pauley.

Heading into last night we talked about few things. We talked about how the team needs to turn up it's defensive intensity, exert its will around the boards, and then attack the rim. Well we took care all of that last night. First, let's talk about the defensive effort. The Bears actually ended up shooting 44.9% from the floor however they made up some of that percentage towards the end when we were essentially in garbage time. Even though we ourselves were a little sloppy in the first half, our defensive pressure throttled the Bears early on as they turned the ball over 10 times in the first half alone. Then in the second half we used our defense to attack relentlessly and go on that decisive 20-2 run. From Jill Painter in the Daily News:

Solid defense is the reason UCLA dominated Cal 81-66 on Thursday.

Hard-nosed, stingy defense.

The Bruins were so tenacious on defense they forced 16 first-half turnovers. The offense is fueled by its defense, and UCLA was running and dunking and having a grand old time.

The Bruins brought some of that defensive swagger back, but they'll need a lot more than one defensive gem to schedule a date in Detroit for the Final Four. Defense, coupled with losses by Arizona State and Washington, put UCLA back in a tie for first place in the Pacific-10 Conference.

Cal shot just 38.1 percent from the field in the first half and 44 percent for the game, although the Bears made 6 of 9 3-pointers in the second half. If only the Bruins can build on that.

Howland preaches it all the time: defense, defense, defense.

If UCLA's freshmen tuned him out before, they might pay more attention now.

"The guys are young and they're still buying into the system," Josh Shipp said. "The older guys know we've been successful playing defense."

Well it looks like the freshmen were on message last night. I was particularly impressed with the play of ML who even though scored just 2 points was extremely active. He was relentless on the defensive end causing a turn over. Same goes for JK, DG, and JA who I thought gave wonderful, high energy effort on defense from the bench (DG's play in which he bounced the ball off a Cal player (without Tim Morrising him) to save an inbound pass was just outstanding).

I also loved the hustle and effort we showed in rebounding. 3 players - AA2, ND, and JS - led the team with 6 rebounds each. JH chipped in with 5 (more on him below) and DG had another 4 off the bench. As a team the Ben Ball warriors dominated the Bears in rebounding by margin of 33 to 20. This comment from Coach Montgomery (who I have a lot of respect for) was satisfying:

"They just completely, physically dominated us," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "We got weak with the ball, and that's no way to play UCLA."

Now that's the kind of comment we got used to from opposing coaches in last three years. We hadn't seen much of that this year until last night. Hopefully last night will not be the last time we hear that line.

Going back to playing strong and aggressive, the players certainly got the message re. attacking the basket:

UCLA's reliance on the outside shot, a staple the past few games, was absent from the outset. The Bruins, who attempted 49 3-pointers in recent losses to Washington and Arizona State, shot a season-low 10 on Thursday.

"To get where we have to go, we have to attack the basket with more emphasis," Collison said. "The thing about it is that any time we do attack the basket, now we have a chance to get fouled, and I thought we had a lot of layups."

Well we had lot of layups because we used our superior athleticism to our advantage for a change. DC and JH were simply unstoppable. Not just them even JA put on a nasty crossover move in a spectacular drive to the rim during the first half. We were constantly moving around with the ball. We were setting up our outside shots well and also using our deep threat to get in the paint attack or dish it off to an open team-mate.

JH had one of the best games of his freshman season. He had some jaw dropping moves to the basket. Plus there were some beautiful passes showing off his instincts of natural lead guard:

Holiday threw a nifty alley-oop pass to Shipp, then found James Keefe under the basket for another two points.

"He sees the floor so well and has a great feel for the game," Howland said.

Hopefully JH uses last night's game as a building block to become even more aggressive in the coming ways. He is one player I don't mind driving to the hoop constantly. He has the natural talent and strenght to make the spectacular and difficult shots look ordinary (at least for him). As for Coach Howland he was pretty happy:

"I don't have a lot to complain about tonight," Coach Ben Howland said. "I'm pretty happy."

To which Collison said: "That's hard to believe."

Best of all for the Bruins, conference front-runner Washington lost at Arizona, so they move back into a share of first place in the standings.

Well the trick for us is not to get worked up over what is going around the conference. We now need to build on our last night's game and zero in on a Stanford team which has been playing some decent basketball of late. They lost a tough game against the Trojans last night (barely missing out on a game winning shot). They have showed how they can beat good teams in the way they handled Cal at Maples. So the Bruins should be well advised to prepare for Saturday's game with the same urgency they conveyed during the days leading up to last night's matchup. As I mentioned above, it's a simple game. If the Ben Ball warriors keep rebounding with the same intensity, keep up our defensive pressure, and constantly attack the rim, they will keep Coach Howland and rest of the BN happy.